Beyond the Pandemic: Where We Are as a Reflection of What We Need
Editor’s Note: This is part two in a three-part series
Statistics and other information on the present condition of jobs in the United States in the areas of trades and skilled labor are alarming. The labor market itself shows job openings in areas that we have not anticipated and in some cases had not seen before. It is too late for forward-thinking, we are now in catch up mode in many areas of employment.
The model of our American public education mirrors our cultural and democratic ideals. We provide the opportunity for all young people in K-12 to choose the path for their future. Parents, counselors, teachers, and the youth themselves make the decisions that will affect their future. As parents and educators, we have judged the schools our child attended and those where we worked by how many of its graduates attended college or university. We have destined our young people and ourselves with the high cost of these post-secondary institutions and in many cases robbed talented young people of careers that are much more lucrative than those that the university and college degree programs prepared them for. We have also doomed ourselves with shortages in the infrastructure and vital services industries.
The pandemic proved the need. Let’s look at the problem.
Baby boomers that fill the majority of the trades jobs are retiring in record numbers. The average age of persons in skilled trades continues to grow. The average age of a master plumber is 58, an electrician, 61. This does not compare favorably with the average age of all workers in the U.S., which is 41.3 years.
At the end of June, even in the pandemic with high unemployment there were 5.9 million unfilled jobs. The U.S. Department of Education reports that there will be an additional 68 percent increase added to the already high demand for workers in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, sheet metal, HVAC, truck driving and pipe fitting in the coming year. They also report that those who complete trades skills training are more likely to be employed than their college counterparts and to be employed in their area of training.
According to Business Insider (Sept. 2020) the need for more workers in healthcare and technology continues to increase. Healthcare jobs are projected to increase 14 percent in the next decade and 12 percent in technology. They also report that 81 percent of construction companies cannot fill their jobs, both in salaried and hourly positions. In addition, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the U.S. will need 76,000 mechanics per year for the next decade to fill the shortage in this lucrative trade area.
Manufacturing is another area where there is a severe shortage of workers. Some of these jobs require only a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Companies report that they cannot keep employees despite good healthcare plans, paid holidays and time off, onsite clinics for employees and families, and other benefit package goodies. Our young people are simply not prepared for the rigors or self-discipline of employment. Employers indicate they have difficulty following direction, staying focused on a job duty, and staying with training long enough to learn a skill. Many of our manufacturing jobs are high tech and require, not just the ability to operate a single piece of equipment, but the ability to align and connect that piece to the entire manufacturing tech line that is constantly being updated.
This information reflects the need of the present. If we are future thinkers that have survived the pandemic, we realize that manufacturing, once the backbone of our economy needs to return to the U.S. Our reliance on global suppliers has revealed a weakness in our safety and security that needs to be filled with a manufacturing return and workers that can produce as efficiently as anywhere else in the world.
There is also a shortage of available employees in the low skills job market. We have an urgent need for home healthcare workers for an aging population. Post pandemic, we will again need more restaurant workers, and motel workers. Again, those workers that are eligible to do these jobs have, in many cases, employment accountability issues and low records of attending and maintaining employment in these jobs.
Unless there is education intervention and community activism towards providing a productive workforce, our country will not be able to maintain its once vibrant economy. Our survival as a democracy depends on our economy. We must be able to compete and be independent in a world market. We have let our ideals of a college education and a skewed American dream interfere with our needs and those of our young people, who deserve the opportunities of good paying jobs and the pride of skill in an unprecedented job market. It won't be easy to shrug off many of our career paradigms, but it is time we relook at how we prepare young people to be contributing adults.
About the author
Dr. Christy Martin recently retired with 30 plus years of experience as an educator in K-12 and higher education and another 6 years in social service for foster youth. She considers advocating for at-risk youth a calling. Since retiring in February, she has returned to her love of writing, currently practicing that craft by writing about child welfare and school issues. She lives in East Tennessee, 15 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.